Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/228

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some things when he has to, an’ can’t get out of it. “I couldn’t stand being a fiddler in a hick town, when—when——

I couldn’t say it. Some things hurt too much to say it.

“I know!” she said. “Somebody thought more of good business than of good music?”

“Jes’ so!” I told her. “You know some girls, they don’t want a fellow, a sweetheart, a husband that don’t know nothing but music, sort of no ’count in the chamber of commerce and on Main Street.”

“Yes, suh!” she nodded. “I’d no right to ask you. I wanted to know, I had to know. I could tell you was white, honest—the way a good man is when he thinks he’s lost out. Musicians, artists, writers—big ones, but undiscovered—always feel they’re mean an’ trifling beside of good money makers. You’re thataway!”

I hadn’t never looked at hit before the way she put it. I jes’ knowed I had a powerful big ache down around my heart, where I’d felt like a humming bird looking into a big rose in those old days. Yes, suh. Now I saw that girl lookin’ into the fire, her eyes full. She had a mighty powerful mouth and jaw, but she hadn’t no way of controlling her eyes. They’d twinkle, and they’d fill up, the way they had, feeling sorry for me. I reckon just that one look I had at her face before that fire in the red light—I was obliged to save kerosene, an’ she’d turned the light down, knowing it, even if I did have lots to eat on board. You see—well, course a man picks up eats down the rivers—a shoat here, a yearling there; maybe some chicks and so on, besides game, if he’s anyways slick and don’t givvadamn.

“Prenaux!” she said to me, the first I realized she knew my name. “I was sick of dancing in a hick town. You know those smart city kids, and those big-footed country goofs. They never saw me dance. All they saw was—was legs. So I came down the river! Prob’ly I was a fool, only I wasn’t. No, indeed—— The first thing, in less’n ten days I heard your music——

That’s the way we found it down old Mississip’. Lots came down who don’t neveh find what they aches for. Men trip down an’ down, an’ floats, rollin’ along the bottom into the gulf at last. Women is thataway, too—young ones an’ old ones. But I knowed a preacher once who'd lost his hold,